Women in Maya society

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Ancient Maya women had an important role in society: beyond propagating the culture through the bearing and raising of children, Maya women participated in economic, governmental and farming activities. The lives of women in ancient Mesoamerica were not well documented: "of the three elite founding area tombs discovered to date within the Copan Acropolis, two contain the remains of women, and yet there is not a single reference to a woman in either known contemporary texts or later retrospective accounts of Early Classic events and personages at Copan," writes a scholar.[1]

Women play a very important role in rituals, cooking food for consumption and sacrifice. Whether women participated in said rituals is unknown. Women also worked on all of the textiles, a very important resource and product for Maya society.

The status of women in Maya society can be inferred from their burials and textual and monumental history. Maya societies include Toniná, a city which developed a matrilineal system of hereditary descent after the reign and death of the powerful leader, Lady K’awil. She had assumed the mantle of power after the failure of the two male leaders.[2] Lady K'awil's reign is documented by murals that depict her seated on a throne with captives at her feet.

Food[edit]

Statue of Ixchel in Teotihuacán

Women participated in the food economy. Deer played an essential part of the Mesoamerican diet; most of the meat consumed by the ancient Maya was venison. Society depended on deer meat, and women played a large role in making sure there was an abundant supply of deer. Evidence shows that deer sometimes lived inside households. While it was the man’s responsibility to hunt and kill deer, it was necessary for the women to make sure there would be enough deer to kill.

Art[edit]

The importance of the Moon goddess is seen through her depiction in the codices and in ancient murals. Another often depicted goddess is Ixchel. Textiles were an important aspect of ancient Mayan life, and while it is not known whether all women produced textiles, those textiles that were produced were created by women. Women used different objects in the spinning and weaving processes depending on their social class. Noble women could use dye in textiles. Also, the products that were used in the spinning were different; the noble women used higher quality fibers.[citation needed] Craft and fiber evidence from the city of Ceren, which was buried by volcanic ash in 600 C.E., indicates that by that time, women's textile work was considered art, not simply crafts woven for a specific household purpose. The creation of the works of art suggests there was a market for them. Women held power in their ability to work thread and to create something that retained a value.

Women's Roles in Ritual[edit]

The social, economic, and political rank of ancient Maya women is a growing center of debate in the archaeology of gender. To date, lines of evidence are based chiefly on investigation of material culture (e.g. monumental sculpture and iconography, ceramic art), use of space (residential architecture and activity analysis and, to a lesser extent, mortuary data). The principle of complimentary, i.e. that men and women played separate, but equally important, roles in the function of society, is found in many studies that define an ideological basis for various expressions of female power, including complementary male/female pairing and gender combination. For example, in the iconography of Classic period public monuments in which elites are represented it can be argued that although women are seen as pieces or male histories in the texts of monuments depicting the lives of rules, the images on the same monuments de-emphasize sexual characteristics. Males and females are identifiable only by their clothing and decoration, which shows a ‘unified elite identity’, in which male/female pairs are dichotomous. Grave goods, inscriptions, and texts also provide evidence of complimentary via the authority elite women gave to ruling lineages often through marriage alliance outside their natal homelands.

Food is both macronutrients and metaphor, its literal and organic character can be transformed by cultural means and imbued with ideological meaning; such that nature becomes integrated with nurture. The process of producing, preparing, cooking, distributing, and consuming food involve cultural practiced and rules governing them to differentiate individuals and groups. In this instance, the differentiation is between genders and socio-economic classes. Ethnohistoric and archeological evidence indicates that the production and distribution of food was an important source of agency and power for ancient Maya women. Although it is believed that elite women controlled food used in rituals, isotopic measures of diet from a variety of sites representing different environments and time periods indicate that they ate fewer ideologically valued food than males. By contrast, non-elite women appear to have consumed the same food as their male equivalents. This finding may suggest that: women did not participate in ritual consumption of food in the same way or to the same extent that men did; or that food consumption was associated with gender identity. Preferential access to ritual food by males ceases after the Spanish conquest but males continued to have more carnivorous diets. This phenomenon could be caused by the conversion of public rituals to private or the assimilation of Spanish gender values, or underlying ideology that is maintained in gender dietary differences. Virtually all rituals involved feasting and women were in charge of the preparation of food and drink used as offering and for consumption, as well as providing offering of cloth (see below). Feast and rituals were visible and significant means used by competing Maya elites to demonstrate their status. Whether or not women were active participants does not belie the social, symbolic and political meaning of their contribution [3]

In addition to the ideological basis for high female’s status, women exercised agency through their labor during the historic period. The labor of women was very important, both socially and economically but their participation in public ritual was limited; because of the potential ethnocentric and geographic bias. There may have been temporal and/or regional differences in the degree of female participation in ritual.[4]

Gender roles[edit]

Men and women performed separate but equal tasks: "males produce[d] food by agricultural labor, but females process[ed] the products of the field to make them edible."[5] In addition to raising deer when necessary, women had religious responsibilities related to household rituals. Women held important daily roles in this aspect of life. While young boys were being taught hunting skills, "the girl was trained in the household, and she was taught how to keep the domestic religious shrines."[6]

Women were associated with the ritual practice of religion, as well as the beliefs themselves. The Moon Goddess is one of the most prominent gods in the Maya pantheon. Through her relations with the other gods, she produced the Maya population. The local rulers claimed descent from the Moon Goddess.

A Maya woman, souvenir maker

Gender in ancient Maya art is ambiguous; it is difficult to ascertain the gender of some figures simply because one couldn’t survive without the other[citation needed]. In some images of heir recognition, this duality is explicit: there is a male figure on one side of the newly anointed, and a female figure on the other side.

Mayan girls are pressured to conform to their mother's viewpoints and not think independently.[7]

Mayan women were attacked and driven out of their homes in Guatemala by the military during conflict.[8] Ladino Guatemalans supported the Guatemalan military in its attack against the Mayans and driving them out of their homes during the 1980.s[9] Mayan women were subjected to rape by the Guatemalan military.[10]

Mayans had patrilineal families and elite Mayan men practiced polygamy.[11] Mayan women are vicious against unfaithful partners.[12]

In Guatemala the development of Mayan girls was compared to socio-economically better off mixed girls of mostly European origin.[13][14]

Mayan babies and their mothers share the same bed.[15]

Guatemalan Mayan girls have a low rate of education and come from impoverished backgrounds.[16] Primary education was finished by just 10% of Mayan girls since the poverty stricken Mayan girls have a large dropout rate.[17]

Textiles[edit]

The prevalence of females in rituals reflects the importance of women to Maya social structure during the Classic period (AD 250– AD 900). Women were the primary weavers of textiles, which formed a major part of any ancient Mesoamerican economy. Based on ethnohistory and iconography, the Maya were huge producers of material for both internal and external use. However, the archaeological classification of textile production is complicated in any tropical region because of issues of conservation.

Evidence for Textile Production at Caracol, Belize[edit]

The evidence for the production and distribution of cloth that is found in the pre-Columbian Maya area and a large contributing site of archaeological data relative to textiles from the ancient Maya is in the city of Caracol, Belize. Archaeology at Caracol has been carried out annually from 1985 to the present and has resulted in the collection of data that permits insight into the economic production and social distribution of cloth at the site. This is accomplished through examining the contexts and distributions of spindle whorls, bone needles, bone pins and hairpins, bone awls, and limestone bars. All of these artifacts can be related to weaving, netting, or cloth in some way.

Spindle whorls are the artifacts most clearly associated with textile production. At least 57 have been recovered at Caracol, 38 of them in 20 different burials. Several of these interments are of high-status women placed in the most important architectural constructions at the site. The contextual placement of these burials stresses not only the link between women and weaving, but also the high status associated with such an activity, thus signaling the importance of cloth and spinning in ancient Maya society.[18]

Child bearing[edit]

Bearing and rearing children was an integral part of society. The mythology and power associated with the ability to create life was one which men tried to emulate. Men participated in bloodletting their own genitals to create something new from their blood.[19] Instead of giving birth to life, they would give birth to new eras through the symbolic gesture of menstruation. This act was highly ritualized; the objects used to pierce the skin were "stingray spines, obsidian blades, or other sharp instruments."[19] The blood was allowed to drip on cloth, which was burned as part of the ritual.

A medical study found out that Mexican Mayan women have the lowest symptoms of menopause reported along with Greek peasant women.[20]

A medical study found that Mayan girls entered into menarche at around 15.1 years old.[21]

Intermarriage[edit]

In East Central Quintana Roo some of the Mayans are descended from the marriages between Mayan Indian women and Chinese migrants and they were made fun of because of this by other people, although they are dealt with sympathetically, according to Alfonso Villa R.[22][23]

Mestizos and Mayans married with Chinese without restraint.[24]

Many Chinese men immediately escaped upon arrival in British Honduras (now Belize) and did not fulfill their labor contracts, instead running away to Santa Cruz where they married Mayan women and sired mixed Chinese-Mayan children with them.[25]

Some Chinese coolies in British Honduras (now Belize) ran away to Santa Cruz and married Indian (Mayan) wives.[26]

Negro, East Indian, European, and Chinese men all intermarried with native Maya Indian women in British Honduras.[27]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Bell, E. E. “Engendering a Dynasty: A Royal Woman in the Margarita Tomb, Copan,” In Ancient Maya Women, ed. Traci Ardren. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2002
  2. ^ Ayala Falcon, M. “Lady K’awil, Goddess O, and Maya Warfare," In Ancient Maya Women, ed. Traci Ardren. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2002
  3. ^ Robin, C. “Gender, farming, and long-term change: Maya Historical and Archaeological perspectives,” In Current Anthropology, Wenner-Gren, 2006
  4. ^ White, C. “Gendered Food Behavior among the Maya,” In Journal of Social Archaeology, Sage Journals, 2005
  5. ^ Josserand, J. K. Women in Classic Maya Hieroglyphic Texts.” Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2002.
  6. ^ Sigal, P. From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.
  7. ^ Orlando Behling; Kenneth S. Law (2000). Orlando Behling; Kenneth S. Law, eds. Translating Questionnaires and Other Research Instruments: Problems and Solutions, Issue 133. Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences. Volume 133 of Sage university papers (illustrated ed.). SAGE. p. 44. ISBN 0761918248. ISSN 0149-192X. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  8. ^ Nicole A. Dombrowski, ed. (2004). Women and War in the Twentieth Century: Enlisted with or without Consent. Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 1135872848. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  9. ^ Brackette Williams, ed. (2013). Women Out of Place: The Gender of Agency and the Race of Nationality. Routledge. ISBN 1135234833. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  10. ^ Drew Humphries (2009). Drew Humphries, ed. Women, Violence, and the Media: Readings in Feminist Criminology. Northeastern series on gender, crime, and law (illustrated ed.). UPNE. ISBN 0939680637. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  11. ^ Mary Jo Maynes; Ann Waltner (2012). The Family: A World History. New Oxford World History (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press, USA. p. 41. ISBN 0195338146. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  12. ^ Kirstin Olsen (1994). Chronology of Women's History (illustrated ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 29. ISBN 0313288038. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  13. ^ Tulika Sen (1988). Growth and Development of Bengalee Girls (Issue 73 of Memoir (Anthropological Survey of India) ed.). Anthropological Survey of India, Ministry of Human Resources Development, Department of Culture, Government of India. p. 30. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  14. ^ Tulika Sen (1988). Growth and Development of Bengalee Girls (Issue 73 of Memoir (Anthropological Survey of India) ed.). Anthropological Survey of India, Ministry of Human Resources Development, Department of Culture, Government of India. p. 30. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  15. ^ Pranee Liamputtong (2007). Pranee Liamputtong, ed. Childrearing and Infant Care Issues: A Cross-cultural Perspective. Nova Publishers. p. 5. ISBN 1600216102. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  16. ^ Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, ed. (2007). International encyclopedia of adolescence: A-J, index, Volume 1. Taylor & Francis. p. 379. ISBN 0415966671. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  17. ^ Jody Heymann; Adele Cassola (2012). Jody Heymann; Adele Cassola, eds. Lessons in Educational Equality: Successful Approaches to Intractable Problems Around the World (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press, USA. p. 222. ISBN 0199755019. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  18. ^ Chase, A. and Chase, D. “Textiles and the Maya Archaeological Record,” In Ancient Mesoamerica, Cambridge University Press, 2008
  19. ^ a b Gustafson, L. S. “Mother/Father Kings,” In Ancient Maya Gender Identity and Relations, ed. Lowell S. Gustafson and Amelia M. Trevelyan. Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 2002
  20. ^ Vicki Kotsirilos; Luis Vitetta; Avni Sali (2011). A Guide to Evidence-based Integrative and Complementary Medicine (illustrated ed.). Elsevier Australia. p. 591. ISBN 0729539083. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  21. ^ Theresa Overfield (1995). Biological Variation in Health and Illness: Race, Age, and Sex Differencesl (2, illustrated, revised ed.). CRC Press. p. 45. ISBN 0849345774. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  22. ^ ALFONSO VILLA R. (1945). THE MAYA OF EAST CENTRAL QUINTANA ROO. p. 96. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  23. ^ ALFONSO VILLA R. (1945). THE MAYA OF EAST CENTRAL QUINTANA ROO. p. 96. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  24. ^ The Electric Journal, Volume 29. Electric Club, Westinghouse Club. Westinghouse Club. 1932. p. 275. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  25. ^ Thomas William Francis Gann (1972). Ancient cities and modern tribes: exploration and adventure in Maya lands (reprint, illustrated ed.). Ayer Co Pub. p. 247. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  26. ^ Thomas William Francis Gann (1918). The Maya Indians of Southern Yucatan and Northern British Honduras, Volume 572, Issue 64. Native American legal materials collection. Volume 6 of Human relations area files: Yucatec Maya (Issue 64 of Bulletin (Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology), Bulletin, Issue 1020 of House document). U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 32. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  27. ^ Thomas Ganns (2001). Terry Rugeley, ed. Maya Wars: Ethnographic Accounts from Nineteenth-century Yucatán (illustrated ed.). University of Oklahoma Press. p. 175. ISBN 0806133554. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 

References[edit]

  • Library of Congress. Cataloging Policy and Support Office (2005). Library of Congress Subject Headings. Library of Congress, Cataloging Distribution Service. p. 4280. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  • Library of Congress (2012). Library of Congress Subject Headings. Library of Congress. Subject Cataloging Division, Library of Congress. Office for Subject Cataloging Policy, Library of Congress. Cataloging Policy and Support Office. Library of Congress. p. M-171. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  • Library of Congress (2012). Library of Congress Subject Headings. Library of Congress. Subject Cataloging Division, Library of Congress. Office for Subject Cataloging Policy, Library of Congress. Cataloging Policy and Support Office (illustrated ed.). Library of Congress. p. S-158. ISBN 0822559781. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  • Library of Congress. Cataloging Policy and Support Office (2009). Library of Congress Subject Headings. Library of Congress, Cataloging Distribution Service. p. 4794. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  • Library of Congress (2007). Library of Congress Subject Headings. Library of Congress. Subject Cataloging Division, Library of Congress. Office for Subject Cataloging Policy, Library of Congress. Cataloging Policy and Support Office. Library of Congress. p. 4541. Retrieved May 17, 2014.